GUN CONTROL: ENOUGH ALREADY!
Opinion by Ed Stone, Contributing Writer
The ultimate aim of "Gun Control" is really gun abolition. Don't believe me? "Gun Control" in England began with a ban on handguns, followed by a ban on semi-automatic rifles, which is now being followed by pressure from the media to eliminate shotguns. (Kopel, "The Samurai, the Mountie, and the Cowboy: Should America Adopt the Gun Controls of Other Democracies?", 1992). "Couldn't happen in America" you may say? When asked about whether he was seeking total abolition of guns, Bill Clinton said: "No, we're not there yet." There are several problems with this form of "Gun Control". First, private gun ownership is a constitutional right. Second, there are still valid reasons why individuals should have the right to own guns. Third, the negative consequences of a total ban far outweigh any benefit such a draconian measure might bring.
James Madison, author of the 2nd Amendment, praised "the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation", and condemned the despotic governments of Europe "that are afraid to trust the people with arms." (The Federalist No. 46, at 243-44). The 2nd Amendment states: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." "Militia" at that time meant "all males physically capable . . . bearing arms supplied by themselves." (U.S. v. Miller, 307 U.S. 174, 1939). The attempt by Southern states to prohibit blacks from owning guns after the Civil War (see Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393, where the Chief Justice noted that if blacks were considered citizens, they would have the right "to keep and carry arms wherever they went."), was one of the main reasons that the 14th Amendment was adopted. (Northern Kentucky Law Review, Jan. 1982, at 136-8). Recently, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee of the Constitution, issued a report based on the earliest records in the Library of Congress, and concluded that: 1) the 2nd Amendment guarantees an individual the right (to own guns), which 2) applies to the states through the 14th Amendment. (S. Doc. No. 2807, 97th Cong., 2nd Sess. at 11-12 ).
Is the 2nd Amendment still relevant? Is there really a need for individuals to own guns? Is there a need to defend ourselves against our own government? Perhaps not in any obvious sense, but I find it interesting that the FBI's files on the Ruby Ridge incident are "missing". If everything happened on Ruby Ridge as the FBI says it did, then what are they hiding? The government wields a tremendous amount of power, and no one with such power should be without accountability to the people they exist to protect. Our Founding Fathers believed that the armed citizenry is what keeps the government in check. Assault weapons have already been totally banned, and so our ability to keep the government accountable by force has been greatly diminished.
A more immediate and practical reason why individuals have the right to own guns is self-protection, a right already well established in the common law before our constitution was written. Sir Edward Coke wrote: "The laws permit the taking up of arms against armed persons . . . for a man's house is his castle . . . for where shall a man be safe if it is not in his house? [This, of course, applies to women as well as men.]" (E. Coke, First Part of the Institutes of the Laws of England, 5th ed. Oxford, 1671). In a physical confrontation, there is no greater equalizer than a gun. Let's face it: the police cannot be everywhere at once. After the L.A. riots, the store owners who were still in business were the ones who had defended their property with their guns. Would you want to be unarmed if an armed intruder came into your home or business? Or, would you rather be able to defend yourself with the same deadly force with which you were being threatened?
Legislating against private gun ownership would have untenable consequences. The only persons likely to obey such a law are the law-abiding, who would quickly fall prey to the criminals who did not obey the law. The criminals would still have their guns, and would continue to have a steady supply of more guns through the black market. "Gun Control" advocates claim that with time, that black market would dry up. Japan has always had total gun abolition, yet the criminals there continue to get guns through the black market. In 1960, 6% of all weapons confiscated were guns; by 1988, the number had increased to 39%. (Tokyo, Ministry of Justice, Annual Report on Statistics on Corrections for 1987). The black market supply went up over time, not down. In our own history, Prohibition of alcohol had to be repealed because the black market for it thrived during that period. The same outcome is likely if guns are banned.
Recent application of "Gun Control" laws indicate that they are not having the desired effect. Washington D.C. and New York City have the most restrictive "Gun Control" laws in the country, yet they also have the highest crime rate. Conversely, Arizona allows its citizens to carry loaded side-arms anywhere, and the crime rate is very low. In 1986, Florida issued 266,700 permits to carry concealed weapons to its citizens. Since then, the homicide rate has decreased 29%. (Time, 1995). The explanation is simple: criminals are afraid of an armed citizenry. Furthermore, armed citizens are able to stop a maniac with a gun. The number of people killed in such massacres as Killeen, Texas, San Ysidro, California, or on the Long Island commuter train, would probably have been greatly reduced if several of those innocent victims had been carrying guns.
"Gun Control" advocates also like to cite statistics, such as: "The number of gun related deaths is increasing at an alarming rate." The overall population is also increasing, and most "numbers" are going to increase as the population grows. Furthermore, they don't tell you how many of those deaths are due to criminal use of guns, as opposed to rightful use by law-abiding citizens. Other favorite sayings are: "People who use a gun for protection end up having it used against them", or "Households with a gun end up losing a family member to a gun accident." Such slogans, while emotionally loaded, have never been proven. All I ask is that you consider the source of any "statistics" before accepting them as meaningful.
"Gun Control" advocates also suggest the "success" of "Gun Control" in other countries, such as Japan and England, as a justification for adopting the same type of "Gun Control" here. This is a comparison of apples to oranges when you consider how radically different the U.S. is from the rest of the world. Japan has very little crime compared to the U.S., but they also have very few civil liberties by our standards, and their suicide rate is twice that of ours (World Health Organization, World Health Statistics, 1984). Japanese scholars have attributed this to the fact that the people there cannot have swords or firearms for self-defense, which results in a "dread of power". (Mamon Iga & Kichinosuke Tatai, "Characteristics of Suicide & Attitudes Toward Suicides in Japan"). In England, despite very restrictive "Gun Control", massacres that rival our Stockton Massacre still happen. In 1987, a man armed with a handgun and a semi-automatic rifle gunned down fifteen innocent people in the town of Hungergord; though both of those guns were banned, "Gun Control" did not prevent this from happening. England also has relatively fewer civil liberties than we do.
The problem is not gun ownership, it is the increasing tendency towards violence in our country. Criminologists cite FBI statistics that teen-agers committed twice as many assaults without a weapon in 1992 as in 1982, and conclude that violence is growing. (New York Times, 5/16/94). While "Gun Control" advocates would like to blame the violence in society on gun ownership, a $275,000.00, three year study by the Department of Justice found that: "[I]t could not be shown that widespread gun ownership causes violence (rather than being a reaction to it), that gun prohibitions have reduced violence anywhere, or that they are enforceable against those likely to commit violence." (Dept. of Justice, LEAA Report, 1981). In Switzerland, where everyone is required to have a gun, violent movies have been banned, and they have virtually no violence there. (N.Y. Times, 2/22/87). Violence is not a product of gun ownership, it is a symptom of a much greater problem that begins with people, not inanimate objects.
There are reasonable forms of gun control, and there are unreasonable forms of "Gun Control". Total abolition, for all of the reasons discussed, is unreasonable. "Gun Control" advocates have suggested a compromise which would require that guns only be used at gun clubs, where they will be kept under lock and key. This is also unreasonable. What good is a gun for self-defense if it is locked up in a gun club? Licensing and registration, mandatory safety training, background checks, and waiting periods are all justifiable forms of gun control. Registration is necessary to prevent abuses of the privilege of owning a gun; it allows the police to trace a misused gun to its owner. Anyone purchasing a gun ought to be required to know how to use it, and proper training would greatly reduce most of the injuries and/or deaths inadvertently caused by negligent mishandling. That's right, I said "greatly reduce", not "totally eliminate". "Not good enough" you may say? I can only respond with: "What about cars, pesticides, electrical appliances, pets with claws and sharp teeth, nuclear power plants, and kitchen knives?" You get the idea. Are you willing to dispense with all of those things unless they are rendered completely harmless? Of course not. We have all decided that the benefits of some things outweigh their inherent risks. Although guns are inherently dangerous, when used properly they are the most viable means of self-protection. Because of their dangerous nature, some degree of control is necessary. When this "Control" takes on a form where guns no longer serve their intended purpose the "Control" has gone too far; it has become abolition.